Navigating the Common Ground Fair with a Physical Disability
For several decades, The Common Ground Fair has been a quirky part of the autumn fair season in Maine. Billed as the largest organic fair in North America, the Common Ground Fair is a top-tier event that has a literal plethora of events, keynotes, political and historical talks as well as a number of organic farming specific lectures. The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association, the trade group that produces the fair yearly, states that about 60,000 people attend the fair in Unity. The fair happens yearly on the third weekend after Labor Day. While the Common Ground Fair is about the same size physically as other agricultural fairs in Maine, most notably (in my own mind) as the Fryeburg Fair, which is the final fair of the fall Season and has a similar number of crowds during the weekend days of the fair.
The Common Ground Fair offers a ton of awesome exhibits, food, social and political organizing and more. However, the fair is a rather large area, with many thousands of people making it sometimes quite difficult to get around in a timely manner. I would strongly suggest that anyone, especially someone with a physical disability spend some time on the fair website (www.mofga.org) trying to figure out what you want to accomplish/see/attend before going to the fair. Realize that the restrooms often have lines, or may be inaccessible. Realize that regardless of your physical ability, a trip to the fair, especially if you are mobility impaired, will be significantly physically draining.
Additionally, there are some perks to the fair that make it well worth attending. People with physical disabilities are given free admission to the fair; normal ticketing is $15/day if the tickets are bought at the Gate, however there is a link to buy tickets in advance either through the MOFGA website or the large number of businesses selling them in advance for $10. The benefit is you avoid the lengthy lines to get into the fair, and given how long the drive to the fair can be; anything one can do to streamline the process, especially if one is disabled will only save much needed energy (and sanity) later. Remember the fair is a fall weekend in Maine, the weather can go from very hot in the 70’s to rain and in the low 50’s in the same day. While the fair may be in Unity, the travels times may be far longer due to the amount of traffic. Plan to be on a flexible schedule, and honestly, it never hurts to have an extra pair of clothes, dose of medication, medical supplies, snacks (The food at the fair is incredible, but it is pricy) and I would highly suggest a pair of gloves if using any sort of mobility device.
The Common Ground Fair has some serious issues with access, especially if you are using a wheelchair. In recent years, paths at the fairgrounds have been paved, but much of the fair, especially the Social and Political Tents are on top of long matted grass, and it is not easy to navigate or maneuver with any wheeled vehicle - from a baby stroller to a wheelchair. The restroom I would frankly guide people who have physical disabilities to use is the accessible restroom in the Exhibition Center near the Social and Political Action Tents. The restrooms are roomy enough to have care provided easily, the restroom is probably one of the cleanest areas of the Fair, and is useful if a person has to worry about infections or incontinence issues. For a fair that boast 60000 visitors, their map for the 2018 fair shows only 4 accessible restrooms, or only half of the facilities are accessible to people with disabilities at the fairgrounds.
While this might seem like a harsh criticism of the Common Ground Fair, it isn’t. If anything, it is a plea from someone who really loves the fair but is genuinely concerned about the health, energy levels and overall well-being of not only myself, but the other thousands of people with disabilities who should be able to enjoy all of the unique and wonderful assets of the annual Common Ground Fair.